Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Notes on the Jackhammer

* I had an MRI today.

* The MRI lady had me lie down on the slidey bed and put my knee in some kind of brace. Then she closed the brace up tight and put a sandbag on my ankle to keep my leg still and said I couldn't move it at all, not even wiggle my toes. I didn't know if I'd be able to do it, especially now that all I was thinking about was wiggling my toes. She also put some headphones over my ears. "To protect your hearing," she said. "It's loud, like a jackhammer." She offered to pipe the radio through, and I said yes, but then I thought about it more and said no. I thought maybe I'd like to make this a dramatic experience, and background music would kill the mood.

* I thought about meditating. I was lying directly below a junction in the ceiling tiles, and looking up at it, the tile lines ran out to the four directions like a cross or medicine wheel or something. I tried to meditate on that, stare at the lines till they shimmered like stared at things do, but after a few seconds my throat started to clench up and make me swallow, like it always does when I'm trying to be self-aware. Like my own personal mara demon or something.

* But what I could see clearest of all--because I was only stuck in the MRI machine up to my waist, with my top half sticking out--was the big SIEMENS logo stamped on the front of the machine. I just lay there staring at it, wondering if it was some ingenious advertising tactic on Siemens' part, to have millions of people every day strapped in and staring, an audience captive and prostrate to their brand, or whether it was just an unintended consequence of rather straightforward product labeling.

* At first, the only noise I heard wasn't loud or like a jackhammer. It sounded like a pump, but like a cartoon version of a pump. Like the MRI machine was some steampunk contraption gone wrong or a forgotten prop from City of Lost Children. After listening a while I wanted to laugh at it, but there was no way I was going to risk jiggling my leg this soon into the game.

* When the imaging finally kicked in, it was loud, but it still didn't sound like a jackhammer. It was like that Flaming Lips song "Fight Test," where it says "The test" with the word all chopped up and drawn out. I didn't think of the melodic part of the song, the bits Cat Stevens sued over, just that first part, and I lay there wondering what kind of drug makes the world sound like that.

* Further in the noise changed, faster now, and yeah, it sounded a little like a jackhammer. But more like a jackhammer effect on a synthesizer. And at one point I even heard a piano in there, like a three-note chord played high up on the keyboard, hitting on every fourth jackhammer beat or so. It was weird and musical, the way any patterned noise can be musical if you want to think about it that way.

* It reminded me of this guy from UVM, tall guy with a beard who sold mushrooms out of his dorm room. The guy who always called me "man" in an awkward way that made me pretty sure he didn't know my name. But I always remembered his name, because it was Pascal, and how am I going to forget that? One time it was like 3 in the morning, and someone had pulled the fire alarm again, and all us guys from the first floor and all the girls from the second were jammed into one of the stairwells in Chittenden. Just standing there, slumping on the stairs, no one talking, the alarm squawking, pounding echoes really loud in this hard, narrow space. And Pascal says, "dude, if this was a Phish show, we'd all be jamming to this shit," and a couple people laughed, and I thought he was right on.

* Thoughts I didn't have during the MRI but am having now: 1. I wonder if anyone has been in the MRI and been meditating on the ceiling tiles and slipped into some sort of shamanic state and been jackhammered straight past the four noble truths and ascetic suffering and directly to enlightenment. 2. I wonder if all the MRI machines in the world were going at once, if their jackhammering would synchronize into some kind of sonic wave deep in the earth, and this giant p-wave would explode out and wash over the whole world.

* When it was done, the slidey bed slid out and I felt pretty damn proud for not fidgeting or wiggling my toes and making the techs redo any of the imaging series, at least as far as I knew. I wanted to ask how often they had to redo stuff because of fidgeters, and I really wanted to ask how often someone just lost it in there, like big-time freaked. But they seemed pretty busy, so I just went into the dressing room and untied the gray hospital robe and tossed it in the dirty bin and put my street clothes back on.

* At the parking garage exit, I gave the ticket booth guy my validated parking ticket, and when he asked how I was doing and I said "fine how are you" he got happy and excited, more than he should have, I thought, and smiled real big. But I didn't say anything else. I looked away and waited for the gate to swing up, and then I drove away. I didn't remember that part of the day till right now.


Anne M said...

That's one hell of a last line!

Kathy Amen said...

I always find the sounds really interesting, too. Although it's a bit more intimidating when they're scanning your head.

Love the way you write about this kind of everyday (sort of) experience.

Candice said...

I love how you wrote this. Especially the marketing part.

Hope all is well!

julie said...


hal said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Orthopedist appointment tomorrow...maybe I'll get another post out of it. :)

elleng said...

I think that had you asked, you wouldn't have been surprised to find out how many people actually do freak out in there! I loved your post MRI wonderings...
A very enjoyable read, Hal.
That logo will have a special meaning for Josh next week!

Joshywashington said...

The most brilliant post i have read all week! I love your matter of factness mixed with wry observations. That shit about the p-wave and enlightenment...golden baby!

hal said...

Thanks Josh! Really been digging the posts on your new site too.